Friday, 21 December 2012
Research suggests that over 90% of American children between the ages of 2 and 5 are subjected to spanking and other forms of corporal punishment (Straus, 2010). For many children it begins in infancy – a child gets their hand slapped for throwing food off their high chair, or pulling the dog’s tail after being told repeatedly to stop. For some, it continues through adolescence until they leave their childhood home and venture out into the world on their own.
Children who have been victims of CP are more likely than their peers to engage in assault, domestic violence, and other serious criminal offenses. Even after controlling for the influence of socioeconomic status, parental psychological abuse, and parental warmth, CP is still a risk factor for engaging in violence as an adolescent or adult.
The relationship between corporal punishment (CP) and later delinquency and aggression is strong enough to warrant the abolition of such an antiquated form of punishment, and that doesn’t even consider the emotional and psychological effects of using CP on children. There is recent research indicating that children who have been subjected to CP are more likely to suffer from sexual problems in adulthood, including coercing others into sexual activity, and engaging in sadomasochism (although whether or not S&M is a problem is debatable).
As more and more developmental psychologists, parenting experts, and organizations speak out against the dangers of CP, there is an equally vocal segment of the population that insists that spanking, and others forms of CP are not only fine, but necessary.
Some die-hard spanking enthusiasts will say things such as:
“I was spanked, and I turned out fine”
“Time-out might work for your kid, but it doesn’t work for mine”, or my favourite:
“The Bible tells me so” (I might have paraphrased that a little)
What I don’t understand is who gets to decide what is the magical age at which CP is no longer appropriate? Certainly, few people advocate for husbands to physically control their wives, or for employers to smack their employees for not meeting their sales quotas. I don’t get to slap my babysitter when she shows up late, or whip the mailman for ringing the doorbell and waking up the baby. It is unlawful to use physical force on another human being, UNLESS they happen to be a child. We may only use physical violence against the smallest, weakest, and most vulnerable members of our population. Something about that just doesn’t sit right with me.
There are scores of parenting books that teach non-violent methods of discipline. If time-outs don’t work for your child, why not try a “time-in”? Rather than sending your child away from you, and withdrawing love and affection, why not go to them and sit with them until they calm down, at which point you can talk about whatever just happened. Some of the kindest, most polite, and endearing children I have met came from homes where their parents used non-violent forms of discipline, and modelled appropriate problem-solving strategies for their children. The kids were raised with the knowledge that their parents expected a certain standard of behaviour from them, but without the fear of being hit, slapped, kicked, or whipped if they fell short of these expectations. I also know of many children who were subject to CP, and who grew up to be kind, thoughtful, contributing members of society. Few people would suggest that everyone who is hit as a child will grow into a violent sociopath; both styles of parenting can lead to happy, healthy, responsible adults. But why would anyone choose to use violence against a child when there are kinder, and more effective ways of discipline?
Family physicians, nurses, social workers, and the like should be educated about the dangers of spanking, particularly when the victims are small children. As part of a woman’s regular schedule of prenatal care, her physician will often ask her whether or not she plans to breastfeed. This is a great question, and can open up an important dialogue on the benefits of breastfeeding to both mother and baby. Not every expectant mother knows how important breastfeeding is for her baby. So why not also ask about other important areas of care, such as “Are you planning to hit your baby?” Now, you can dress it up and give it a new name, but spanking is hitting. Whether you use your hand, a stick, a belt, or a slipper, you are hitting your child. And chances are, that child of yours is going to grow up and do the same to their children. My daughter is but a year old, and I have already caught myself reaching to slap her hand after telling her time and time again “uh uh, not for ___”. Thankfully I have caught myself in each of those moments, and have been able to take a step back and re-think how I am going to handle the situation. I don’t want my daughter to grow up in an environment where she learns that it’s acceptable to use violence against others, whether they are bigger or smaller than she. Does this mean that I will never say “no” to her? Certainly not - there will be times when I will have to disappoint, frustrate, or even anger her by denying her things; there will undoubtedly be times when she will think that she hates me. But she will never fear me.